Mexican Wolf Population Gets Genetic Boost

Genevieve Fuller, a Mexican wolf biologist with Arizona Game and Fish, holds a wolf pup to be cross fostered into a wild den.

PHOENIX – The Arizona Game and Fish Department working with other agencies cross-fostered 20 genetically diverse wolf pups from captive facilities across the U.S. into litters of wild wolf packs.

Over a six-week period in April and May, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), with extensive logistical support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) worked together resulting in 12 pups being fostered into four different packs in eastern Arizona and eight were fostered into three packs in western New Mexico.

Cross-fostering is a proven method used by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT) to increase genetic diversity in the wild Mexican wolf population. It involves placing genetically diverse pups less than 14 days old from captive breeding populations into wild dens with similarly aged pups to be raised as wild wolves. The IFT has documented that cross-fostered pups have the same survival rate as wild-born pups in their first year of life (about 50%), and survival rates using this technique are generally higher than other wolf release methods.

“Managing genetics is one of the biggest challenges facing Mexican wolf conservation, even as constant progress is being made on numeric recovery,” said Jim deVos, Assistant Director for Wildlife Management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Science has proven that cross-fostering young pups works in increasing genetic diversity.”

A total of seven different captive-born litters provided Mexican wolf pups for fostering into the wild population. The following facilities provided pups this year:

• Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri – three pups into Elkhorn pack in Arizona; three pups each into Dark Canyon pack and San Mateo pack in New Mexico.
• Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in Socorro, New Mexico – one pup into Prime Canyon pack in Arizona.
• Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas – four pups into Hoodoo pack in Arizona.
• California Wolf Center in Julian, California – four pups into Rocky Prairie pack in Arizona.
• Phoenix Zoo, Arizona – two pups into Iron Creek pack in New Mexico.

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